Now that a blog has run with part of the story I think that CF members unaware of the full story deserve to be told it. CF Diary can reveal that the Party's "Youth Development Manager" has approached long-standing activist and Castaway star Clare Hilley offering Party resources for a campaign to get her elected Chairman of CF instead of the other, long-standing candidates.
I've been following this since before Christmas in the hope that the Manager would backtrack, apologise, or be disciplined internally. Instead, there has been continued deception on his part, and in the last week a Party Board investigation into the matter quietly concluded by telling him off for "the suggestion" that he had acted wrongly. In writing this report I've spent longer analysing the complexities of CF internal politics than I would usually care to, but it's important that it is made clear that this behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.
In November, being completely new to the CF scene and having only been appointed around the time of Party Conference, the Manager asked a young CCHQ employee if they knew of any female activists who may be willing to run against Williams, Richardson and Rock. As a result the Manager met with Clare Hilley twice, talked regularly to her on the phone and on a few occasions exchanged emails with her (see below). He claimed to her that Justine Greening MP (who has some responsibility for CF), Caroline Spelman MP (Chairman of the Party), the Shadow Cabinet and even David Cameron weren't keen on the current candidates but were keen on getting a woman in the role.
Hilley said she didn't think she had the time or money to organise a campaign, never mind having the time to be an effective Chairman. The Manager said that he could take care of the campaign and that unlike previous chairmen she could be more of a media spokesman than a director. He started to work on a website and other promotional materials, and even intended to use the CF Christmas Party to launch the campaign, even though candidates had (strangely) been told not to overtly campaign at it themselves. He also told her about the strength of different CF branches around the country and the details of meetings he had had with Mark Clarke and Justine Greening.
After all this, the Manager told the democratically-elected Chairman of CF, Mark Clarke, that he didn't know who Clare Hilley was.
Hilley initially thought about the idea before becoming concerned about the implications it would have for the relationship between CCHQ and the voluntary party, and realising that the Manager was clearly looking for somebody he could make decisions for. There is no question about Hilley's integrity here at all and she deserves to be re-elected Area Chairman of London South.
I spoke to the Manager this morning to give him a heads-up on my intention to go public with this and to see if he happened to have any solid rebuttals. The only one he offered, other than it all being "rubbish", was that he only met Clare Hilley as a matter of course because she was standing for Area Chairman. This was back in November - four months before the election - and at a point when she wasn't intending to stand for AC.
Now, read these email chains between the Manager and Hilley. The Party Board investigation was aware of these emails. A Party spokesman told me he was only encouraging her to stand and that anything more than that would of course be unacceptable, but these emails alone point to there being something more than encouragement:
- What was the "paper trail" he was so keen to avoid in November?
- What was the "leak" that he informed Hilley about in January?
The Party's official statement is as follows:
"This year, for the first time, the CF elections are being conducted by Electoral Reform Services and so any concerns about the integrity of the process are totally misconceived. While we don’t comment on internal personnel matters, there is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging women candidates to get involved in politics."
You only need to read the start of the second sentence, the rest courageously knocks down straw men.
Another angle to this story is that the Manager is known to be hostile to Chairman candidate and NME member Matthew Richardson (and indeed expressed "reservations" about the other candidates for Chairman when trying to get Hilley to stand). Not that it is his place to have an opinion.
Some of you will remember that a blog
was set up last year that made false accusations about Richardson. As
soon as Richardson, a barrister, starting working on taking the issue
to court the Manager claimed to have got a friend to hack into it and
take it down, although Richardson says that the host service, Blogger,
told him that it was taken down by the author. Click here
for an email chain between the two of them that reveals some inconsistencies in the Manager's position.
Forward Together candidates have obviously been concerned about all this in the run-up to the elections but my understanding is that since the Manager decided to pay for the ERS to manage the elections his main job has been to sort out the electoral roll, which was completed some time ago. The rest is being managed (just about!) by them.
In conclusion, there is a worrying question mark underlying the whole issue of unfairly trying to get Clare Hilley elected. It would take extraordinary arrogance, and devotion to the cause of gender-balanced politics, for a new Manager of CF to take it upon himself to find a woman who would be willing to be discreetly supported by Party resources in standing for CF Chairman.
It seems to me that either the Manager has spun a perfect web that defied the Party Board's investigation, and his general incompetence and naivety in managing this scandal makes that seem unlikely, or he has been let off because what he did was sanctioned by the higher-ups.
Either way, it is clear that he lacks integrity and that it will be impossible for Conservative Future to be able to continue as a unified, coherent organisation with him as the Party's £35,000pa Youth Development Manager.